I have wanted to do some interviews on this blog for a while now. And one of the first persons who came to mind was Paula. I’ve known Paula for about five years or so and we met at our church. One day while talking, I learned that she was a foster/adoptive mom. So I shared my “birth mother” story with her and she has always been very supportive of me and my family.
I have met four of Paula’s five children, with the exception of Rebekah and I can tell you that they are all happy, well-adjusted kids and adults. Our two sons, Jaren and Collin have played together and both have been a bright shining light within the walls of our church. They never met a stranger they didn’t like. Collin and I have a special bond but to be honest, many others at our church and I’m certain elsewhere could very well claim the same “special” bond with Collin. He makes everyone feel so special.
Without further ado, I introduce you to Paula…
How many children do you have?
I have 5 children total.
Are they all Foster/Adopted children?
The oldest two are my biological children and the youngest three are adopted. The middle child was never formally adopted but he grew up in foster care. My daughter met him while searching for stuff on Craigslist. Long story but she brought him home with her. At age 17 he was the only child of eight never adopted because he was special needs. I have been ‘Mom’ ever since.
When or how did you decide to become a foster parent?
It was actually my daughter’s idea for me to do foster care. She came to me when she was 15 and said that she thought it would be a good idea since I would need something to ‘Mother’ when she was gone. I laughed and told her I wasn’t crazy about my own kids when they were young; what made her think I wanted someone else’s problems. She kept at me and after 6 months I finally called to check it out.
Because I am a nurse, they sent me to a lady named Karen who ran a special program with foster care called ‘Options for Recovery’. This was a program that took care of drug and special needs children ages zero to three who were placed in foster care. I should say at this point that most people, myself included, have been given a very narrow vision of what it means to be a Foster Parent. No, I did not want some 10 year old, fire starters who killed animals and robbed stores. When Karen told me the types of kids I would be getting, I decided to give it a try and began the process.
I received my first placement before my training was even completed. That placement taught me more than I could have ever learned in a classroom. It taught me what I needed to be for these kids and who I needed to be for me. My specialty was what I called short term tubes and wires placements; high medical needs and no more than 30 days. From me they went to long term or adoptive placement depending on the court decision.
This was a perfect way to have a baby and not be stuck long term. Labor and delivery was a phone call asking, “Do you want…?” I got to shop, make doctor visits and get them stable and ready to move on. I had no intension of adopting nor did I want to have any long term connections. Little did I know at the time.
When or how did you decide to adopt?
It wasn’t until my eleventh placement that the thought of adoption was even a possibility. My daughter knew from the minute I brought Lizzy home that she was not leaving.
When I got Lizzy she was in horrible condition. She was a 4 month old shaken baby with over 100 broken bones in various stages of healing. She was blind and deaf from brain damage. Lizzy had over 60 seizures an hour and screamed constantly. I was to find out later that she was only released so she wouldn’t have to die in the hospital. At the end of her 30 days, I took Lizzy for her return visit to the hospital. They were stunned that she was still alive. No one told me that she was supposed to be any other way so I took care of her.
Because of the nature of the case and how well she was doing, I was asked by the court to keep her a little longer. Soon a month became a year and then almost two. By this time I had come to know the case very well and was determined that Lizzy would not be returned to these people. The courts agreed and I was given permission to adopt her.
During this time I received more placements who came and left. Then I got my seventeenth; Collin (as we call him now); nine weeks old, genetic syndromes, 4 major surgeries and more plastic parts than regular. I was told his prognosis was extremely poor by the doctors. They felt that if he made it to 3 years old they would fit him for braces and see if they could get him on his feet. His social worker was determined from day one that I was going to keep him. I figured I had one in a wheelchair, what was one more? So I agreed to adopt him also. Our adoption was delayed from March to November of 2001 due to paperwork. As it turned out, Collin is part Native American and I needed tribal permission to adopt him. On November 14, 2001, I formally adopted Lizzy and Collin and they became my children.
What are some positive and negative aspects of fostering?
I have met some pretty great people when I do foster care. Some are more like family and we are very close, watching the kids who were in such bad shape from either medical conditions or severe abuse recover and become happy kids, seeing the kids go to good homes and knowing I was a part of that; and, most of all, getting my kids.
The down side was mostly the rules and the requirements were sometimes a hassle. Having to deal with some of the biological parents and social workers was often a difficult thing and remaining professional as well as sticking to my rules was at times a challenge. You learn to set boundaries quickly. Many foster parents have a hard time letting the kids go. It is important to bond but you must always remember that you are temporary; a safe haven for these kids.
Don’t feel like you have to save the world. You can’t. But if you have an impact on just one kid, then you have made a difference. I had 140 kids in my 6 years as a foster parent. Only 2 went home to the biological families. I adopted 2 and the others went to really great families. There was one other I was adopting when a social worker decided that I was the wrong color and abruptly removed him 9 days before we were to finalize his adoption. I had him for 2 years.
Can you tell us a little bit about all of your children?
Jacob, 37, is my oldest biological child. He was born with Down Syndrome and is deaf. He attends a wonderful day program and is a very happy person.
Rebekah, 30, is very bright. We do a lot of things together and have made ‘bucket lists’. She has just finished two terms in Peace Corps Africa and I am a very proud mom.
Juan, 29, is my semi-adopted kid. He has cerebral palsy due to drug exposure in before birth. He has emotional issues from being bounced around his entire life and has recently transitioned into his own place.
Lizzy, 14, suffers from Shaken Baby Syndrome. She was perfectly normal at birth and was severely abused over the first 9 weeks of her life. She is a quadriplegic, blind, has seizures, is fed through a g-tube and requires round the clock care. Her hearing is very good and she knows what is going on around her. Although nonverbal, she communicates very well to let us know her needs. She is also very spoiled and is a princess.
Collin, 13, is my youngest. He suffers the effect of Sticklers Syndrome and Pierre-Robbins Syndrome. Both caused him many problems as an infant and they continue today. He is learning disabled and is losing his vision and hearing. He was on a trache until he was 2 and a g-tube until he was 10. Contrary to early beliefs, Collin walks and talks and is a social butterfly. He is a cast member of our favorite TV show and wants to continue in show biz.
Can you share a special moment(s) that stick out in your mind about your family?
There have been so many wonderful as well as truly tragic moments over the years:
Watching Collin take his first steps, talking and eating on his own. Him becoming part of a TV show and the way they all love him. He is part of a documentary about special needs baseball. This year he was honored for his volunteer work by Night of Superstars. We stay very busy.
Lizzy regaining her hearing and smiling at the sound of music, her first laugh, her saying her first word…”Huggies”.
Jacob was 7 years old before he learned to walk.
Rebekah graduated from CAL Berkeley with a double major and enlisted in the Peace Corps.
The day we all got together to finalize the adoption.
Are there any recommendations that you can provide to others as a foster or adoptive parent or just as a parent in general?
When I have been asked to speak, the best advice I have ever given is to just say, “NO”. Know what you want and can handle and stick to it. If older autistic kids are not what you are able to handle, say no; as sad as it is to say, if you pass on one, there will be more.
Treat them as you would any other child; special needs or regular. They are kids and need to be kids. Don’t let anyone tell you they are not really yours. Families are what you make and not always what you are born into.
Can you tell us a little bit about parenting special needs children?
I am fond of saying that I don’t do normal. There is nothing boring or ordinary in our world. Special needs kids offer you the opportunity to see life in a little different way. No, it’s not easy at times, especially being a single parent.
We are like a regular family. The kids go to school, we have a schedule, they do chores, and they play baseball and go on outings. I have great help in the form of a nurse for Lizzy who I could not live without. Therapists come 3 days a week to work with them.
You take time to enjoy the little things. You notice more and it makes you grateful for the many simple things in life.
It is a little sad when you see all of the regular kids doing things, the mile stones so to speak, and know that your kids will never be able to do those things. But some of the things that they have been able to experience are amazing.
People often say to me that I am a special person for having all of these kids and they are lucky to have me. They are wrong. I am the fortunate one to be a part of their lives and get to do what I love to do.
Thanks, Paula for sharing your story with us. And while I know from experience, parenting is a thankless job (especially single parenting), you are a special person. Not just because you have fostered or adopted or because you have raised special needs kids, along with a non-special needs kid or because you have done this while also being a single parent, but because you see things in people that they themselves or others may not see in them. You have strong faith in each individuals ability, no matter how small or large that ability expresses in oneself.